Middle East meltdown

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Aleppo, Syria
Wikimedia Commons/Voice of America News, Scott Bobb

The illegal airstrikes by the United States, Britain and France seem to be more of a publicity stunt to demonstrate the moral virtue of the so-called “civilized free world” than an attempt to end the misery of the Syrian people. Bashar al-Assad is a first-class monster, but his scorched-earth strategy is winning. The West’s Three Musketeers say that he is free to murder his own people so long as he doesn’t use chemical weapons.

More than half a million Syrians have been killed since 2011. Ninety-four percent of the civilian victims were killed by the Assad-Russian-Iranian alliance. But the vast majority of civilian deaths have been through the use of conventional weapons.

But al-Assad isn’t the only murderous son-of-a-bitch. There’s Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (or MBS) who has waged a vicious war in Yemen since 2015 as his country’s defense minister. MBS is a good buddy of Trump’s crown prince Jared Kushner. Washington policymakers have praised him as some sort of great reformer. MBS recently went on a charm offensive in the U.S., appearing on numerous TV shows and meeting with big shots such as Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, Michael Bloomberg, Bill Clinton and Secretary of Defense James Mattis.

Meanwhile, a U.N. human rights report shows that airstrikes by the Saudi coalition have also caused extensive damage in Yemen. Many targets are civilian buildings like schools or hospitals or key civilian infrastructure like bridges. Since the beginning of the war, at least 5,000 children have been killed, 8,700 civilians have been killed, and 50,000 civilians have been wounded. A cholera outbreak has claimed the lives of at least 2,119 people, according to the Red Cross. Another 8 million are on the verge of starvation. Since the Saudi-led war started in 2015, the U.S. and U.K. have supplied nearly $5 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia.

There has been little coverage of the Yemen war in the mainstream media. The Saudis have made it nearly impossible for journalists to cover it. They also have employed public relations outfits to help “improve the image of Saudi Arabia” in countries such as France, the U.S. and the U.K.

Saudi Arabia isn’t the only foreign country to conduct such a propaganda campaign in the mainstream media. The Israeli government has been doing this sort of thing for many years. But it hasn’t been completely successful.

For example, an angry MSNBC host Chris Hayes on April 4 condemned an “unconscionable” use of force by the Israeli army against Palestinian protesters in Gaza. He said that more than 750 Palestinians were shot and at least 15 were killed (the toll would end up being larger). Hayes said that a few days later, Trump and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a chummy phone call and they didn’t appear to have discussed the massacre, according to the White House readout.

Hayes noted that defenders of Israel’s military would say that the protest was, “endorsed by Hamas, which rules Gaza in a thuggish and anti-democratic manner and uses violence and terror in their campaign against Israel.” He said some protesters “threw rocks and Molotov cocktails and rolled burning tires at the border fence. All of which is true. But this in no way justifies what Israeli soldiers appear to have done, which is perch on a hill and pick off protesters with sniper fire.” He showed videos of teenagers being shot while running in an open field and while praying. Hayes said soldiers, “rained down bullets on unarmed protesters again and again.”

Hayes said the vast majority of members of Congress have been silent. The U.S. blocked a U.N. Security Council investigation of what had happened. “From day one,” he said, the Trump administration, “has sent a message to our Middle East allies, particularly Israel and the Saudis,” that there would be, “no raps on the knuckle, no tsk-tsking about restraint. Our allies are taking that directive and running with it.”

The U.S. group Human Rights Watch said, “the Israeli government presented no evidence that rock-throwing and other violence by some demonstrators seriously threatened Israeli soldiers across the border fence.”

The Israeli human-rights group B’Tselem quickly took out ads in the country’s newspapers encouraging soldiers to, “refuse to open fire on unarmed demonstrators.” The organization pointed out that, “the command to use lethal force against civilians who do not pose mortal danger is patently illegal.”

Due to the Israeli and Egyptian border closures and the Israeli sea and land blockade, the people of Gaza aren’t free to leave or enter Gaza. They can’t freely import or export goods.

A number of years ago, a United Nations report estimated that Gaza would become unlivable by 2020.

Eighty percent of Gaza’s population relies on humanitarian aid to survive. Over 70 percent of the population is refugees, according to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, from land now within the borders of Israel.

Can the U.S. have a consistent and coherent foreign policy which is critical of Israel and Saudi Arabia as well as Syria? Diplomacy is needed, not war.

This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.